Cheapist projects has ideas for everything from refinishing a wood floor to making neat homemade gifts.  If you are someone who likes to get your hands dirty with DIY, Cheapist projects has ideas and tips for you.

getting labels off bottles

We are surrounded by useful and often attractive glass bottles and jars; it is a shame to waste them.  You may want to reuse bottles and jars simply for storage or re-purpose the glass for a neat Pinterest idea, but first you must think about getting the labels off bottles.

The best way of getting labels off bottles and jars:

  • Save a bunch of glass bottles and jars to process at once.
  • Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaning powder (5-7 scoops for a large sink).
  • Soak all of the bottles and jars for several hours.
  • Check on the bottles to see if the solution is dissolving the glue. 
  • Some bottles and jars will be stubborn; give the label surface a scrub with steel wool or even a blade so the solution can soak in. Let them soak some more.
  • Scrub off all of the labels and glue with the steel wool.
  • Give the bottles and jars a final rinse.

Reasons for getting the labels off bottles

I am a homebrewer.  I am always getting the labels off bottles because having to buy bottles all the time is a drag.  It was important to me that I find an effective way to get the labels off bottles on a large scale.  I tried many different methods, but when I started using oxygen-based cleanser, I stopped experimenting.  This method is by far the easiest way I have found.

getting the labels off bottles brewing Saving these bottles will save me $25 at the homebrew store.

Related post: Cheap and Easy Homebrewing

Once I found an easy method to get the labels off bottles, I started saving all kinds of glass containers to reuse and re-purpose.  I use them to store food, office supplies, and garage stuff.  I also learned how to cut the bottles and jars to use in little decoration projects.

getting the labels off bottles hurricane lanterns

I made three of these hurricane lantern candle deals for my friends with some glass jugs and some scraps from installing a butcher block counter top.  I thought they would use them on the garden walkway, but, to my delight, they are using them in their dining room.  Of course, for this project, I had to also cut off the bottom off the jugs.  The best way for cutting bottles is a topic for another time.

jar projects candle holders

These yard-sale candles were giving me fits.  They floated around the house for ages since we had nothing that could hold them safely.  I decided to embed them in plaster inside some pickle jars.  The solution is not very elegant, but it worked.

Detailed instructions for getting the labels off bottles and jars

Collect a bunch of glass containers to process at once.

This method of getting labels off bottles is pretty easy, but the solution takes a while to work.  You will also create a bit off a mess with all of the soggy, disintegrating labels, so it makes sense to do a bunch at a time. Start stashing all of the glass containers that you might want to reuse.

getting the labels off bottles collection

Gather your supplies for getting the labels off bottles and jars.

Once you have enough glass containers for a batch, make sure that you have steel wool, oxygen-based cleaner, and a sharp blade.  It is also a good idea to have a couple of boxes and towels to keep things neat and organized.

getting the labels off bottles supplies

I like to clamp a razor blade into a pair of vise-grips for scrapping the more stubborn labels.  I find that this tool is more comfortable and effective than those little razor blade holders that you can buy.

In getting the labels off bottles, know your enemy.

There are many different types of labels and glues.  Most labels will come off easily after soaking for a while.  However, foils and glossy papers will prevent the solution from penetrating into the glue.  Bottles with foil or glossy paper labels will need some extra abuse with steel wool or even a blade so that solution can start to soak through.

getting the labels off bottles using a razor
This squarish bottle is pretty neat, but the label is not cooperating.  It is time to bring in the big gun.

Plastic labels present unique problems.

Plastic labels can only be removed mechanically.  Also, the glues used with plastic labels do not dissolve easily.  For these labels I recommend the following:

  • Use a razor blade to start peeling back the label.
  • Use pliers (or tough, stubby fingers as shown below) to grasp the label and pull it all the way off.
  • Use a solvent (like paint thinner) to dissolve the glue.

getting plastic labels off bottles

Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaner and let them soak.

For getting the labels off bottles and jars, you simply need to make sure that the oxygen-based cleanser solution can access and dissolve the glue.  You may even realize that some of the labels are floating to the surface on their own, leaving only a bit of softened glue on the bottle.

getting the labels off bottles soaking

As you can see, this sink it totally full.  If I am going to go through the trouble of getting the labels off bottles and jars, I am going to do a lot of them at once.  As I go though the process,  I may decide that some bottles are being too stubborn to bother with and toss them into the recycling.

getting the labels off bottles easy bottle

This bottle was not being stubborn at all.  The label basically floated away on its own.  This is a win-win since Victory beer is excellent, and the bottles are cooperative.  I don’t buy beer based on the label and glue, but there are worse ideas.

Scrub the labels with steel wool.

Once the labels and glue have softened enough to make your job easy, start scrubbing the bottles with the steel wool.  The steel wool will not leave any noticeable damage on the surface of the glass.  You will also notice that pesky dates and numbers printed on some bottles scrub away easily.

easy way to remove labels
This glue will come off in a jiffy.

As you get the labels off the bottles and jars, set them aside neatly.  I like to use a milk crate for this so that I don’t create a big mess that can fall over easily.  If you tilt the box the right way, the remaining solution can drip out of the bottle. Dispose of all of the labels and label remnants before draining the sink; you don’t want to put all that crap down the drain.

getting labels off bottles stacking

When the bottles are stacked neatly, they will not roll around, get knocked over, or fall on the floor. For you homebrewers out there, it is good to know that 25 twelve-ounce bottles fit perfectly inside a standard milk crate.  You can even put another milk crate on top and flip the whole thing upside-down so that the bottles can drip dry.

drip drying bottles
The bottles in the top crate are now inverted. They can drip dry so that there will be no water left when I store them.

Give the glass containers a final rinse.

With fresh, clean water, rinse off all of the bottles and jars, and give them a final inspection.  Run your hands around the bottle to feel if any glue residue remains.  Stack the bottles so that they can drip dry.

Rinsing the bottles as I wrap up
Rinsing the bottles as I wrap up

Getting the Labels off Bottles conclusion

Whether you are making wine, organizing your garage, or storing food, you don’t need to go to the container store, brewing supply store, or Target.  Be economical and sustainable by reusing bottles and jars that you already have or can find easily.

Below you can see the final result.  I was able to get the labels off a lot of bottles and jars at one shot.  Now I have the bottles I need for brewing and few odds and ends for storage and little projects.

getting the labels off bottles stacked jars

Glass is a uniquely useful material.  It is attractive, easy to clean and/or sterilize, and abundant. If you are faithful to one brand of pickles, you might have the solution that you need to finally organize all the random fasteners in your garage or junk drawer. Think twice before you chunk those bottles and jars into the recycling.

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Turning pallets into stuff overview

Perhaps nothing is as satisfying as using your own hands and creativity to make something useful from worthless junk.  In many professions the results of our efforts are often longitudinal or indistinct.  I love turning pallets into stuff because the gratification is immediate and concrete.

turning pallets into stuff project
Pallet Chair photo by Dru

In turning pallets into stuff, you save money on materials, reduce society’s waste, and create something that can serve for a lifetime.  Some pallet projects could intimidate even an accomplished woodworker, but don’t let that stop you.  You can build something useful with minimal tools and minimal skills.  If it doesn’t work out, the pallet was garbage to begin with.

SAFETY NOTICE: Working with any tools, even hand tools, can be dangerous.  If you are uncomfortable with a task or it feels awkward or unsafe, stop what you are doing, and find a better way.  There is a smart and safe way to accomplish every task.  Always protect your hearing, lungs, and body.

turning pallets into stuff materials
Projects waiting to happen.

Turning pallets into stuff: basics

Finding pallets to turn into stuff

Pallets are easy to find, just look behind the businesses in your area.  If a business has a big pile of pallets next to their dumpster, ask an employee if they are trash. Stealing pallets that are part of a pallet return program is dishonest and unnecessary; there are plenty of discarded pallets to go around.

save an oak tree
Save an oak tree by salvaging a pallet.

Most pallets are made of hardwood; this is what you usually want.  The most common woods used are oak and maple, which are expensive to buy at a lumber yard.  Softwoods are less desirable for most projects and are more likely to fall apart during pallet disassembly.  If you are unsure about wood species, press your thumbnail into the wood and see if it dents easily.

SAFETY NOTICE: Many pallets are treated with chemicals.  Make sure that your application will not expose anyone (including yourself) to toxins.  For example, do not use treated lumber to build an herb garden.

Cut, smash, and grab

turning pallets into stuff tools

Basic tools for pallet disassembly:

  • Hammers (claw hammer and perhaps an engineer’s hammer)
  • Pry bars
  • Saws (handsaw and circular saw)
  • Vise grips
  • Nail set

There are as many ways to disassemble pallets as their are DIYers.  There are even special tools that you can buy, like the Pallet Pal.  For most of us, some basic tools will suffice.

Using a reciprocating saw to cut through all of the fasteners is a mistake.  You will leave nail remnants in the stringers, the beefiest and most useful part of the pallet.  I prefer to cut the ends of the slats with a circular saw and leave a bit of the waste protruding from the stringer.  The ends of the slats are often split or riddled with nails anyway.

When I disassembling pallets and turning pallets into stuff, the following method works best for me.

1) Cut the slats on both ends leaving the waste a bit proud of the stringers.turning pallets into stuff disassembly

2) Wiggle the slats hither and thither to loosen the center fasteners.wiggle the slats

3) Pry the slat free of the center rail.

prying out the slats
Now you can get purchase with the pry bar.

4) Repeat this step for the slats on the opposite side.

5) Now that the stringers are free, smash the overhang connected to the stringers to leave the protruding nail heads.  This will enable you to easily remove the nails completely.turning pallets into stuff stringers

6) Remove the nails from the slats with a vise-grips, nail set, hammer, etc.  Strike the nails on the pointy side so that they will be easy to pull out on the other side using the vise-grips.  If you are using the nail set, they might just shoot out without any prying.

7) Pry the nails from the stringers.  As you can see, the nails left in the stringer will be easy to pull once the ends of the slates have been smashed.  You have saved the most useful part of the part of the pallet and (hopefully) removed all the metal from your stock.

easy to pull nails

pallet wood ready for use
Pallet wood ready for use

Turning pallets into stuff: rough projects

If you only need some rough material, you are ready to build.  There are a lot of projects that don’t require your stock to be well-surfaced on all sides.  If you are just getting started turning pallets into stuff, make some basic, rough projects before thinking about jointing or planing your stock.

Be advised that your stock may still have some metal inside.  This metal (even a tiny piece) can damage your tools or blades.  To learn about removing all metal from your stock, read the intermediate section.

I needed to build a tool wall to organize my yard stuff.  The pallet slats are good enough as they are for this application.

pallet project tool wall
That’s much better.

A friend of mine wanted to turn an extra large pallet and some random garage lumber into a “mud sink” for her kids to play with.  I think it came out pretty great since we only spent a few hours on it.  With a few alterations, this design could be used for a garden dry bar or a potting shelf.  As you can see, the pallet forms the back of the mud sink which you can build on.  The hardest part is dropping in and supporting the container that will be the mud sink.pallet mud sink 200kb

Turning pallets into stuff: intermediate

If you will be using your pallet wood for some finer or more complicated projects,  You will have to do some additional work to prepare your stock.  For these types of projects, it is essential that your wood be surfaced on four sides so that your joints will be strong and align properly.

WARNING: Machinery is dangerous! Protect your hearing, lungs, and body.  Never where loose clothing or jewelry when operating machinery.  Never use machinery in ways that contradict the operating instructions.

Removing all of the metal

When you will be machining your stock in turning pallets into stuff, it must be completely free of metal.  Any metal at all will damage cutting knives and blades and could pose a danger.  Luckily, a cheap metal detector is the solution.  The metal detector shown works beautifully and cost about $20.

turning pallets into stuff metal detector

Quickly run the metal detector on all four sides of the stock.  If you find metal, pry out the offending object or cut out the section.  This should go pretty fast.

Planing one side

You need to start by getting one side of the stock perfectly flat.  You don’t need to have a big, expensive jointer to accomplish this.  All you need is a sharp plane and some effort.  Sight down the work-piece to decide which side you want to make perfectly flat.  The hardest part of this process is learning how to properly sharpen the plane iron.

Sometimes a piece is so warped that is pointless to try to flatten it into a perfect plane.  You can either discard the piece or cut it into smaller pieces that can be flattened.

turning pallets into stuff jointing
Look at that nice oak figure coming through.

I am using this old-timey jointer plane, but a shorter plane will do.  The work-piece is held in place by a nail-head sticking out of the workbench.  Once you are getting a nice, full shaving all the way down and removed any twist, the surface is flat.  Mark the side that has been planed with pencil, so there will be no mistake.

pallet wood before and after
See how the beauty of this wood is revealed.

Plane the opposite side.

If you simply flip the piece over and use the hand plane on the opposite side, it may look nice, but it will not be co-planer.  It may be a wedge shape with two flat sides.  You can make it co-planer by using hand planes, but it is much easier to use a thickness planer.  Thickness planers are powerful tools, and they are fairly small, easy to use, and relatively affordable.  The one shown cost less than $300.

thickness planer and pallet wood
Taking the stock as it exits the thickness planer.

I marked the flat side that I planed by hand with pencil squiggles because the flat side needs to go face down in the planer.  The uneven top side will be shaved down until it is uniform and co-planer to the bottom.  Once this is accomplished and all of my boards are close to the thickness I want, I will flip the pieces over for a final pass to remove the pencil marks and ensure that my hand-worked side is perfect.

TIP: Start running the thickest boards through first and add the thinner boards to the process as you go.  Once the thinnest boards are getting shaved, all of you boards are the same thickness.

Why not skip the the hand tools and start with the thickness planer?  You can do this if your project allows for some irregularities, but the planer will follow the shape of the bottom side of the board to a certain extent.  If you don’t start with one flat registration face, the sides of the board could follow the same wavy profile.

Joint the edges of your boards

Now you have boards that are surfaced on the top and bottom but not on the edges.  Jointing the edges is easily done with a table saw (or even a circular saw).

turning pallets into stuff edge jointing
I have clamped the piece to the table saw fence so that I can joint one edge with a plane.

There are many methods and jigs for edge jointing, but I like to joint one edge with a hand plane and then put this edge against the table saw fence.  This edge will be straight, and it is OK if it is not at a perfect right angle to the other sides.  After cutting off the un-jointed edge on the table saw, flip the board to cut off the edge that you planed by hand; it will now be perfectly perpendicular.

cutting the jointed edge
By shaving off the edge that I jointed by hand, I can ensure that it is now perpendicular (as long as my saw blade is perpendicular).

To sum up, I planed one side by hand, ran the the other side through the surface planer, and jointed the boards’ edges.  My boards are now S4F, or surfaced on four sides.  They are ready to use in turning pallets into stuff projects where tolerances are unforgiving.

Turning pallets into stuff: making a custom dog cart

There are approximately six bagillion ideas to try, but I am making a custom dog cart.  My in-laws have a young Bernese Mountain Dog, and they want to train it for one of the breed’s traditional occupations: pulling stuff.

custom dog cart customer
At the time of this photo, this monster was still growing.  I am just grateful he hasn’t accidentally eaten my dogs.

I decided that pallet wood would be perfect for this custom dog cart application.  It is the right size, durable, and free.  If the project is a complete fail, I have only spent my time.

using a cross cut sled

I will use a sled on my table saw to make sure that my crosscuts are precise.  This is important when doing any type of joinery.

turning pallets into stuff assembly
The custom dog cart is taking shape.
turning pallets into stuff custom dog cart
Custom dog cart result

I used some purchased hardware and some old bicycle tires, but all of the wood for this custom dog cart came from the pallets.  That’s what I call turning pallets into stuff.  I like this pipe and flanges solution because you can just twist the pipes out to remove them for transport.  A few minor details (sanding, stain, etc.) and this custom dog cart is ready for action.

custom dog cart 2
“Looky thar, ‘sgot a tailgate and e’ry thang!”

Conclusions on turning pallets into stuff

I love the fact that so many people are excited about salvaging pallets.  The projects can be as simple as using whole pallets to make a compost bin or as complicated as fine woodworking.  Using free materials gives you the freedom to experiment, learn, and make mistakes.  The challenge of dealing with problems inherent in reclaiming lumber is chance to hone your skills.

cheap and easy homebrew method

Get started making cheap and easy homebrew.

If you think that you might like brewing your own beer, do it.  You don’t have to be some kind of gastronomic genius or chemistry nerd to make great tasting beer from scratch.  Don’t go overboard with cost or complexity.  This article will help you get started making cheap and easy homebrew of which you can be proud.

My philosophy on homebrewing is that it should be simple, fun, and cheap.  I don’t want to get a PHD in how enzymes work or spend a fortune on some stainless steel monstrosity that I will have to clean.

expensive brewing equipment
You don’t have to buy expensive equipment.

After all, beer originated by making itself.  Millennia ago some idiot left a grain bucket out in the rain and few weeks later some other idiot dared a third idiot to drink out of it.  The rest is history.   If beer can happen essentially by accident, you can make delicious, cheap, and easy homebrew.

mad homebrewer
“The guys in the homebrew club won’t believe this!”

Assumptions on making cheap and easy homebrew

You have to enjoy some level of effort.  No matter how elegant your set-up is, there is always some organizing, cleaning, and lifting involved.

You have to be patient.  This applies to the agonizing weeks that you will have to wait before trying your cheap and easy homebrew and to the waiting entailed in the brewing itself.   You spend a lot of time waiting for things to soak, heat up, cool down, etc.

The main brewing day is kind of like tailgating.  Plan for some good company, music, food, beer, or other diversions to make the experience even more fun.  I like to listen to baseball or mess around in my garage while keeping an eye on the homebrew.

waiting while brewing
Waiting for the wort to cool.

You will be brewing ales.  There is a reason why most small breweries and homebrewers make ales.  Making lagers adds complexity related to the yeast strains and the required refrigeration.  Fear not, there are thousands of awesome ale recipes for cheap and easy homebrew.

You will be brewing five gallons of beer.  This is the standard for most homebrewers.  It makes about two cases, so you will have plenty to share.  You can easily cut a recipe in half, but the effort of brewing is the same.

homemade beer for gifting

Your cheap and easy homebrew should focus on styles that are expensive to buy.  If you are spending all of this time trying to make Old Milwaukee, what is the point?  Think about the pricey beers that you love to drink, these are the styles to emulate in making cheap and easy homebrew.  I will be making a Belgian Dubbel based on a recipe from Keystone Homebrew.

You will need to spend a bit of money.  Even if you make all of your own equipment from found objects, you will still need to buy ingredients.  I can make two cases of a Belgian Dubbel from $40 of ingredients, so that’s a great deal.

You want to quickly advance to all-grain brewing.  Most beginners start by brewing from extract, a syrupy concentrate that adds the fermentables (think carbs). You can make some great beers this way and customize your recipes, but, to me, it seems a bit lame.  All-grain brewing is not difficult, and the ingredients are cheaper.  If you do start with extract brewing, try to progress quickly to brewing with grains.

all grain cheap and easy homebrew
All-grain brewing

You will need a bit of space.  I have successfully brewed all-grain beers in the kitchen of a one-bedroom apartment, but you still need a place to store your buckets and things.

brewing in an apartment
Brewing (all-grain) in a small apartment.

Steps to making cheap and easy homebrew.

Note: If you are brewing with extract, you will skip many of the early steps.

1) Ingredients and gear for cheap and easy homebrew

You will need: Water, fermentables (malted barley or malt extract), hop flowers (whole-leaf or pelleted), and yeast.  That is all you really need.  Technically, you don’t even need the hops, they weren’t generally used in beer until the twelfth century.

hops for cheap and easy homebrew
The hop flower.

There are so many great resources for homebrewers these days.  You can find a recipe or start with a recipe kit.  You can order online or visit your nearest homebrew shop.  I like to frequent Keystone Homebrew because they are awesome.  I use their kits frequently because it gives me a low-risk way to try different malts, hop varieties, yeasts, and adjuncts (weird additions like berries, honey, etc.) that I can incorporate into my original creations.

cheap and easy homebrew supplies
A homebrewer’s paradise
beer samples
Free beer!

I have ordered custom recipes and/or kits from all of these online suppliers:

Midwest brewing

Morebeer.com

Northern Brewer

They have all done a fine job, but make sure you are getting a good deal on the shipping. The only concern here is with the health of the yeast.  Liquid yeasts give better results (generally), but need to be kept cold with an ice-pack during shipping, and this can be a bit iffy.

NOTE: Don’t forget to request that your grains be crushed!  Investing in a grain mill is unnecessary for cheap and easy homebrew.

You will also need some buckets, lids, tubes, capper, and stuff like that.  You can buy an inexpensive kit that has what you need to get started.

cheap and easy homebrew gear

2) Water for cheap and easy homebrew

Water is an important factor in your beer.  Water that is too hard, too soft, too chlorinated, or has a bad taste might be a problem depending on what you are brewing.  Distilled water is not recommended as the beneficial minerals have been removed.  If your water is pretty OK, don’t worry about it.

3) Heat up the water for mashing.

How are you going to boil large volumes of liquid? You will need at least a six-gallon pot.  If you are doing extract brewing, you can do a partial boil and add clean water to make up the difference.  However, your hop optimization will be reduced.

If your kitchen stove has a high-output burner, it might be able to get the job done, but it will take a long time.  Most people go ahead and buy a high-output burner that attaches to a propane tank.

heating for cheap and easy homebrew
Jet-type burners are louder, but they work well.

Heat up six gallons or so to your mash temperature.  The recipe that I am making calls for mashing the grains for one hour at 152 degrees (pretty typical).  However, the resting temp. of the mashing vessel and the grains themselves will cause the temp. of the mix to drop 10-15 degrees, so I want my water to be about 166 degrees when I add it.

Warning: Do not heat an empty pot, it could melt!

pot for cheap and easy homebrew
8 gallon stainless pot

4) Put the heated water and your crushed grains together.

You need a method to soak the grains in the heated water for a while and then remove the sweet liquid known as wort.  This step is called mashing and the device is known as the mash tun.  The mash tun is able to hold the mushy mixture at temperature and then separate the liquid from the spent grains.  It is kind of like a giant teabag.

You can make a mash tun from an old cooler, but it will need the addition of a valve and a false bottom to release the liquid without getting clogged.  You can buy an adapter kit for this modification or spend some time with some plumbing supplies.  Make sure that whatever you buy is food safe at hot temps.

mash tuns for cheap and easy brewing
Both of these coolers work great. The smaller one (5 gallons) doesn’t have enough capacity for amount of grains in bigger beers.
adding water to mash tun
Adding the water at 166 degrees. This recipe calls for 1.25 quarts for each pound of grain, but you don’t have to be very precise.
false bottoms for mash tun.
Homemade false bottoms for my two mash tuns.
homebrewing false bottom
Simple false bottom using hose clamps.

You don’t need to get elective surgery in Brazil to have a false bottom.  I made the false bottoms above out of some CPVC pipe, but you can also buy them.  You just need away to drain out the sweet goodness and leave behind the grain husks.  

malted barley
It will mix better if you add the malted grains to the water.

all grain cheap and easy homebrew

Use a spoon to mix up the mash and break up any “dough balls.”  Be careful not to displace your false bottom when stirring.  Then close the lid and wait for the enzymes to do their work in turning the complex sugars into the simple sugars that yeast likes to turn into alcohol.

5) Get the sweet goodness into the boil pot.

After the hour has passed, you need to get all the good stuff out of there.  This process is called sparging. You gently add hot water (170 degrees, any hotter will start to leach nasty tannins from the grain husks) to the mash tun while slowly draining the good stuff into the pot.  Keep an inch or two of water above the grain bed.

You want to add the water gently so that it doesn’t create channels leading to the exit.  Otherwise, you will leave a lot of the good stuff behind.  There are many ways to add the hot water gently:  You can buy a sparge arm, sprinkle the water through a pie pan with holes in it, or use a tube with a bunch of holes (as shown).

sparging for cheap and easy homebrew

This should take at least an hour.  Slow and gentle is the key.  Collect the first quart or so in a smaller vessel and then add this back to the mash (gently).  This removes any nasty stuff from when the mash bed wasn’t filtering well.

cheap and easy homebrew image

6) Boil the wort and add the hops etc.

Once you have collected six or so gallons from the mash tun, start boiling the stuff. Dump the remaining contents of the mash tun on your neighbor’s lawn when he isn’t looking.

Watch the boil carefully as a boil-over is a real mess.  You might want to skim off some of the foaming proteins from the top of the boil to calm things down.  Don’t worry if you wort is full of globs, this is normal for cheap and easy homebrew.

cheap and easy homebrew boil-over

rock candy for brewing

This particular recipe calls for some Belgian rock candy (yum!)  Whenever adding anything like this to the boil, it tends to fall to the bottom and form a burned-up mess.  When adding candy, syrup, etc. stir it faithfully until it has all dissolved.

Add your hops according the schedule shown in the recipe.  You put the hop leaves or pellets in muslin bags so that you can pull all the debris out at the end.

hop additions for cheap and easy homebrew

dunking the hops
Adding the bittering hops.  The first addition is mainly for bitterness while later additions give hoppy tastes and aromas.

7) Retrieve your hop bags, cool the wort, and start sanitizing.

After the boil is complete (typically one hour), retrieve your hop bags and cool the wort as quickly as possible.  You can put the whole pot in an ice bath (like a storage tote filled with ice and water), or purchase a wort chiller that runs cold water through a tube.  If you are simply going to wait for it to cool off enough to add the yeast, you will be waiting a long time.

cooling your cheap and easy homebrew
The snowcano method.
immersion chiller
An immersion chiller speeds things up considerably. The initial heat of the wort sanitizes the unit.

Cooling the wort quickly is ideal as it clarifies the beer with what is called a “cold-break” and reduces the chance that something other than your chosen yeast will take over the brew.  Once it starts cooling, your cheap and easy homebrew is in danger of contamination.

While your wort is chilling, mix the sanitizing solution and sanitize the fermenter (bucket), airlock, lid, and thermometer.  You want your yeast to be the only thing living in the fermenter.  I use sanitizing solution that doesn’t require rinsing as it is easier.

protecting cheap and easy homebrew
An air lock lets pressure out but not in. The CO2 produced by fermentation needs to escape.

For the fermenting vessel, I use the “bottling bucket” that has a spigot; it makes transferring the beer easier later on.  Some brewers consider this a bad practice as they think it increases contamination risk.  Clean and sanitize the spigot parts carefully, and you shouldn’t have any trouble.  Make sure that the spigot assembly is water tight before adding the wort.

TIP: After mixing up the sanitizing solution, keep some handy in a spray bottle.

8) Get yeasty.

Once the wort temp has fallen into the range dictated by the directions on your yeast (typically around 70 degrees), transfer the wort from the pot to the sanitized fermenter.  Your yeast likes to have some oxygen in the mix when it is doing its thing.  I like to pour the wort from the pot into the fermenter, then back again, then back again.  The splashing adds some oxygen.  There are also fancier ways to introduce oxygen (e.g. “It is my supreme privilege to announce the arrival of a most illustrious molecule etc…”)

adding oxygen
Socks and sandals are in this season.
yeast for cheap and easy homebrew
The brewer makes the wort, but the yeast makes the beer.

9) Let the magic of cheap and easy homebrew begin.

Now your brewing day is complete.  Your wort and yeast are safely in their sanitized environment, so you can relax a bit.  Soon (in a few days) the airlock will start to bubble and you can giggle with glee.  Put your fermenter in a safe place for a week or more.  The next time you mess with it, it will contain alcohol and be in less risk of contamination.

fermenter

10) Secondary fermentation

Most homebrewers choose to employ a secondary fermentation.  This simply means that you move the beer to another vessel (after a week or two) during fermentation.  This is desirable because you are getting the beer off of the dead yeast cells (at the bottom) which may cause off flavors.  I also find that the agitation renews the efforts of the remaining yeast.  Don’t forget to sanitize the second fermenter.

NOTE: Once fermentation is started, oxygen is the enemy.  Avoid introducing any oxygen (splashing) when transferring or bottling the beer or you risk oxidizing the beer and making it taste stale.

11) Bottle your cheap and easy homebrew.

bottling cheap and easy homebrew
Save old bottles, because paying for bottles is a drag.

Even though I have a keg system, I still bottle frequently as I like to give away beer. Bottling is no big deal.  You can bottle strait from the spigot on the barrel, and most of the sediment will be left behind.

  • Make sure you have enough bottles.  Five gallons means you should plan for 52 bottles.
  • Use only pry-top bottles. Don’t try to cap a twist-type bottle.bottles for cheap and easy homebrew
  • Make sure the bottles are clean before bottling.  You can get the labels off of saved bottles by soaking them in warm water and oxyclean (a couple scoops) for an hour and then scrubbing them with steel wool.  They will clean right up.

TIP: Get in the habit of rinsing out beer bottles before saving them.  The beer left in the bottom dries into a hard crust that is difficult to remove.

  • A standard milk-crate holds 25 bottles perfectly.  This is helpful for cleaning, drying, stacking, and storing.  Stack the bottles upside down after cleaning so that they will drip dry.
  • Create an assembly line.  I like to start with clean bottles and then have several stations: sanitizing dunk station, dripping out station, priming sugar station, capping station, and stacking area.assembly line
  • Sanitize the valve on the bucket (use a spray bottle) and fill the sanitized bottles carefully to avoid spilling or splashing.  Leave about an inch of head-space.
  • Put a priming tab in each bottle (this allows the remaining yeast to carbonate the bottle).  Be organized so that you don’t mess up this step or you could have flat or explosive beer.
  • Crimp on the cap.  If you are worried about oxygen in the bottle damaging your beer, you can use bottle caps that have a oxygen absorbing pad in them.

Enjoy your cheap and easy homebrew.

After two weeks in the bottle, your cheap and easy homebrew is ready to enjoy.  Some styles will benefit from aging, but most are best consumed young.  If you think that you might like making cheap and easy homebrew, you should give it a shot.

For an initial investment of about $200, you can enjoy brewing for a lifetime. You will be drinking better beer and people will think you are magical. Once you have your all-grain system figured out, there is no end to the recipes, ingredients, and methods you can explore.

enjoy cheap and easy homebrew

LEGAL NOTICE: Homebrew has alcohol in it.  It can be bad for you.  There are some laws about homebrew in your state, and you should obey those laws.  Don’t drink too much or you will feel bad and do stupid things.  Home brewing involves hot things and heavy things.  Don’t burn yourself or give yourself a hernia.

best homemade gifts for adults wrapping

The argument for homemade gifts for adults

The promotions for holiday loans make me sick.  If you need the loan, should you really be spending so much on gifts?  Perhaps you should be saving up your emergency fund or paying down debt instead.  There are more thoughtful ways to make gifts special without taking out a loan.  Homemade gifts for adults can slash your budget and need not be lame, even if you don’t have crafty skills.

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Creative Commons photo by Christopher Porter

You may not be able to save money by making gifts for the young people in your life.  Most kids neither want nor appreciate a homemade gift, so focus on ideas to make homemade gifts for the adults.  This makes sense because it is probably impractical to make all the gifts that you need.

Purchasing gifts for adults is never as easy as we hope.  Think about how many hours you spend looking for the perfect gifts only to give up and buy the default cooking knife, coffee set, hand towels, slippers, or fill-in-the-blank.  Adults usually have the things that they need and are very picky about what they choose to keep in their homes.  Consumables (tea, wine, olive oil, coffee, stationary, etc…) are always welcome, but may not adequately express your regard.

Approach 1: Use your skills to make homemade gifts for adults.

Do you like to knit? Crochet? Do you have graphic design skills?  Can you bake? Can you brew beer? Bedazzling? Sewing? Photography? Canning? Sketching? Are you musical? Could you make candles or soaps?  Think about what you can do or would like to try.  

homemade gifts for adults woodworking

I enjoy woodworking.  Two years ago I made cutting boards, last year I made lantern thingies, this year I carved spoons from some local walnut.  I try to make several of one item because it is more efficient.  I don’t make too many because it starts to feel like a chore.  If I can think of purchased gifts for half of the people on my list, I can give the other half something homemade.  This allows me to eliminate the weakest shopping ideas and cut my budget.  Oftentimes, the purchased gifts that I thought were great ideas get a lackluster reception after all.

homemade beer for gifting
I brewed two holiday beers for gifting.  Plan to lose a few packs to “quality control.”

My go-to skills are woodworking and brewing.  What can you do?  Think about anything you have done in the past or would like to try.  This is a great opportunity to try something that you think you might enjoy.

TIP: If you are making homemade gifts for the adults in you life, make sure to start early, months early.  There is nothing worse than having your efforts defeated by unrealistic planning.

Homemade gifts for adults (skilled)

Woodworking gifts: Keepsake boxes, custom cutting boards, candle-holders, etc.

Knitting gifts: Gloves, hats, scarves, etc. make great gifts and don’t require too much time.

knitted fingerless gloves
My wife knit these for her mommy.

Felting gifts: Felting is a great thing to try if you want to be crafty but are intimidated by other needle-arts.

Photography gifts: Take a great photo with the recipient in mind.  Plan a photo shoot of their favorite place, pet, activity, etc.

Original sketch or painting: Create with the recipient in mind.  Are they into a particular animal, activity, astrological sign, celebrity, philosophy, or community?

Graphic design gifts: Compose an original logo, family crest, collage, etc.

Memories video: If you are into editing video, you could create a gift that will truly be cherished.  If you don’t have all the video that you need, use stills.  How about a highlight reel of their three-year-old in karate class?

Song recording: Can you compose, play an instrument, or sing like an angel? (I sing like the angel of death.) 

Original poetry: You could present the poem in a cool way, like painting the poem onto a piece of driftwood or something.

poem on driftwood
Creative Commons photo by Constanza

Homemade beer or wine: If you are trying this for the first time, remember that there is some aging time involved.  Also, people think its neat when you make the labels.

Canning gifts: I love it when I receive preserves.

canning gifts
Preserves from my sister-in-law.

Sewing gifts

Homemade jewelry

Baking gifts

Candle making

Fancy soap

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Creative Commons photo by Sonia Scommegna

General gift making: If your are a bit handy with the glue, you can make some cool stuff. Home and garden decor is a good candidate here.

homemade decor
Creative Commons photo by Frédéric BISSON

Approach 2: Use your time to make homemade gifts for adults.

Even if you don’t have any skills that naturally lend themselves to gifting, fear not.  There are lots of gifts that require effort if not special skills.

Prepared foods and mixes are a great choice.  Acquire a bunch of mason jars (always save these as the labels can be soaked off with oxygen-based cleanser) and fill them with goodies: baking mix, pancake mix, dry soup mix, granola, trail mix, salad dressing, dehydrated fruit, marinade, venison jerky, etc…  There are so many great and easy recipes to explore, and they require no special skills or equipment.

Homemade decorations are fun to make, give, and receive.  Increase your swagger with homemade swags.  Is your neighborhood full of holly bushes or evergreens?  How about arborvitae or English ivy?  Get a some ribbons, wire, little bells, or ornaments, and have at it.  If you want to challenge yourself, try making a wreath or garland.

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You may be surprised at how warmly your homemade gifts are received.  Beyond the holidays, homemade gifts can keep you prepared for house-warmings, anniversaries, appreciations, condolences, and so on.

Homemade gift ideas for adults (unskilled)

Mini-succulent arrangement

Mini-herb garden arrangement

Prepared foods and mixes

Homemade pasta: This can be frozen or dried.  It is always better than the pasta from box.

pasta maker
Creative Commons photo by vigilant20 (דָרוּך)

Dehydrated stuff: You can make awesome beef jerky or other dried foods in your oven.  You don’t need any fancy devices, but you might want one if this will become a habit.

Home and garden decor: Swags or garlands are easy to make.  Pressed flowers in a picture frame can be very attractive. Another idea is to take a memento and turn it into a snow globe.  Affix the item to the inside of a the lid to an attractive jar, add some sparkles and water and you are in business.

homemade bird feeder
Creative Commons photo by Susy Morris

Photo collection

Pickled veggies: There are many great websites to get you started.

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Creative Commons photo by Christopher Porter

The gift of time: Organize a special outing, event, or dinner.  Make a real effort to show how much you care.  This gift is highly under-rated.

Homemade gifts for adults is not a waste of time.

Adults know how precious time is.  When you use your time and effort rather than money, they will feel truly special.  Even if the gift is a bit of a flop, they will appreciate your efforts.  Don’t be insecure about your skills.  I am by no means an expert woodworker, but people adore the modest fruits of my labors.  Try making homemade gifts for the adults in your life, and I promise your time will not be wasted.

making molding with a router featured

Making molding with a router saves money on projects.

Doing your own home improvements makes sense if you enjoy the projects and have the aptitude, but the average DIYer spends more on the materials than a pro.  One way to overcome this disadvantage is by making molding with a router.  After all, you have already resolved to spend your time rather than you money.

Another reason to make your own molding with a router is for environmental sustainability.  You can make dozens maybe even hundreds of linear feet of molding from even the most derelict board.  Save a few boards from the garbage, prep them for milling, mill them up, and reduce your environmental impact.  The stuff at the home center has traveled a long way and burned fossil fuels all the while.

making molding with a router environment

The costs of buying molding

Purchasing shoe molding, door stop, quarter round, casings, etc. can quickly cost you the money that you saved with all of your hard work.  Even a simple quarter round will cost you almost a dollar a linear foot, so it adds up fast.  Making molding with a router is a great alternative.

Furthermore, molding from the home center is often faulty softwoods, pvc, mdf, or some other junk that the home centers invented while I was typing this. Besides, I would rather spend my time making sawdust than in the home center.

making molding with a router set up

Steps for making molding with a router

1) Find your stock.

You will be amazed how many linear feat of molding you can mill from a few salvaged boards.  Abandoned boards are easy to find, but there are a few thing to consider:

  • Avoid boards that have fasteners that will be difficult to fully remove.
  • Avoid chemically treated woods like pressure-treated yellow pine; you don’t need to unnecessarily expose yourself to these chemicals.
  • If you are applying a natural finish, the wood species must match.
  • If you are applying paint, the species doesn’t matter except that you should reject cedar and redwood. (I thoughtlessly used some ceder in my project and it didn’t take the paint as well as the rest.)
  • If you will be using a thickness planer, save boards that are slightly thicker than the target thickness.
  • I you will not be using a thickness planer, the boards must be your target thickness.
  • Get more than you need.  Once you start milling you will discover hidden defects.

wood in a dumpster

Related post: Spring Is Dumpster Diving Season

2) Prepare the stock to be milled.

When making molding with a router, make sure that the reclaimed wood is completely free of metal objects or you will damage your machinery.  The best way to do this is with an inexpensive metal detector.  Swiftly move the metal detector along all four sides of the board and remove all metal before doing any machining.

metal detector for woodworking

If you are only milling smaller dimensions, they are so flexible that you really don’t need to do any jointing.  Just make sure that you find (or plane to) the right thickness.  If you are looking for a cheap thickness, planer, I have been happy with this WEN.  It is not as good as having helical rather than straight cutters, but it gets the job done.

thickness planer making molding

3) Set up for making molding with a router.

I made a little, drop-in insert for my portable table-saw.  It drops in to place when the side is extended fully.  I have a very small “shop,” and this “router table” can hang on the wall.

Do not worry if you can’t rig a slick option; you do not need to build anything fancy. A board with a hole in it on top of some sturdy sawhorses will work, just make sure that everything is secure.

Find some appropriate screws to mount the router to the surface.  You are essentially making a very large router plate. Choose bearing-guided bits so that you don’t need to deal with setting up a guide fence.  The image below shows a router bit that includes a guide bearing.

router insert for table saw
The depth can easily be adjusted from the side of the table.
cheap router bits
These cheap Harbor Freight router bits are OK for limited use.

Do not buy router bits individually unless you are really forced to.  They are invariably cheaper when purchased as a set.

Set up an out-feed surface to support the work piece if you are making longer pieces.  You will be more comfortable, and you will be working safer.

4) Be safe.

Before you turn on any machinery for making molding with a router, think about protecting your ears, lungs, and hands.  Wear hearing protection, use a respirator, and remove loose clothing and jewelry.  Can you imagine what will happen if your sleeve gets caught in the router? I thought you could.  Keep your fingers, hands, clothing, and jewelry away from the bits and blades.  Use push sticks with the table saw.  If something feels awkward or dangerous, stop what you are doing and walk away until you find a safer method.

making molding with a router safety

5) Start making molding with a router.

Do not try to run narrow pieces through the table saw, it is dangerous and awkward. Use the router to put the desired shape on the wider board first. You will mill the profile on the side of the board, cut it off the board, and repeat.

Carefully adjust and test the bit height on a test piece before milling everything.  Once the height is set, don’t mess around with it until you are finished with that profile or they may not match perfectly.

To speed things up, put the desired profile on both sides of the board.  Then run the piece through the table saw with the profiled edges against the fence.

bearing-guided bit
Once you chuck the pieces spoiled by knots, you will be impressed with the quality of the trim.

squaring a table saw fence

TIP: I noticed that something wasn’t quite right when I was using the table saw.  I don’t know how it came to be, but my fence was way out of square (as shown in the image).  After some adjustment it was much better. Take the time to fine tune your tools when they are not perfect.

Repeat the routing and the sawing until you have much more than you need.  When making molding with a router, make a materials list of all the trim that you need, and try to do all of your milling in one go.  It is a pain to set everything up again, and you will minimize the possibility that some of your trim will not match.

It will go quickly, so make plenty.  Once you are installing the molding, it is so nice to make mistakes or chuck substandard pieces without a second thought.

custom molding for cheap
I needed these unusual moldings to go cover the center part of my interior storm windows. I would not have been able to buy them anyway, so it is nice to be able to make them.
cheap molding collection
I made plenty because I like to measure once and cut twice.

Conclusions on making molding with a router

Now I have all of the pieces that I need to finish my project.  Not only did I spend no money, I cleared some scrap pieces out of the garage.  This little collection of cheap molding easily saved me $200, so it was worth my time.

Have some tips for making molding with a router or saving money on materials? Leave a comment!

saving a wood floor

Is the wood floor worth saving?

Some people believe that they should save a wood floor no matter the condition.  My wife is one of these people.  Our oak veneer floor (only about 3/8″ thick) was installed (poorly) in 1925.  These thin, face-nailed floors cannot be sanded down very much or very often.  My floors have character.  If they had any more character, I would be writing this from the basement.  She wanted to save them, and I wanted to be cheap.

This guide will help you save a wood floor cheap, so long as you accept a rustic appearance.  They have a smooth finish and will perform beautifully under considerable abuse.  I have tried to keep the process as simple (and cheap) as possible.  I have done several floors in my home and have found a method that works great for me.

Prepping to save a wood floor

Remove the shoe molding.

If you try to work around it, it will make sanding more difficult and will look unprofessional.  I find a simple painter’s multi-tool works well for prying the base shoe loose. If you break some of the shoe molding during removal, it is cheap to replace.  In this particular room, I am replacing all of the shoe molding with door stop anyway as I feel it covers more problems and gives a sharper look.

Replace ruined boards.

Using an oscillating tool with a plunge blade or sharp chisel to remove parts of the floor that are beyond hope.  Consider cutting your replacement pieces first and using them to trace the cut lines so that there is less room for error.

Make sure to stagger the seams and avoid dinky filler pieces. (They are less secure and look terrible.)

If you can’t find the flooring you need at a lumber retailer, you might need to steal flooring from a closet that can have a different floor surface.  I am fortunate that my type of floor is common in my area, and it is on hand at Rittenhouse Lumber.

patching wood floor

Patch the small stuff.

To save a wood floor you will need to fill holes that you find with putty.  You can try to mix the filler with dye or sawdust to better match color, but I didn’t bother.  I like Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty because it is easy, cheap, fast, versatile, and it expands as it dries locking it in place.

Knock down any protruding nails and shoot some nails into squeaky areas (again, the final product will not be suitable for Buckingham Palace.)

using a nail set
This nail needs to be knocked down with a nail set.
fighting squeaky floors
I would rather see more nail heads and hear less squeaks.
wood floor to be sanded
As you can see from this room renovation, I like to do the floors last.

Sand in the place where you live.

(Shout-out David Picciuto)

Rent the right floor sander to save a wood floor cheap.

I don’t like drum sanders as they are too aggressive, and it is easy for someone like me to make a big boo-boo.  You will want to rent an orbital pad sander if you are a novice or if you have the thin, veneer type floor like I have.

Use a U-Sand (Cherry Hill Manufacturing) sander on thin, uneven floors where removing a good layer of material is not an option. These sanders have four orbiting pads and are very forgiving for beginners.  They are easy to operate as they kind of float around like an air hockey puck.

WARNING: Floor sanders are heavy; you may need some help to load, unload, or tackle stairs.  I got mine to the the third floor by hitching my dogs into a draft team and using a complicated system of blocks and tackles, but I’m a boss.

awkward dog moment
A well-deserved nap after hauling the sander up the stairs.

Have a plan so that you can get away with renting the floor sander for one day.

Make sure that you have more than enough sand paper for the big day. Order a variety pack of 6″ hook and loop sandpaper discs online in advance to save money.  You will go through a lot of sandpaper.  I went through 40, 60, 80, 100, and 150 grit, but some approximation of this will be fine.  After returning the big sander, use a hand sander to get the edges and corners.

cherry hill floor sander
The sandpaper need not have the holes, the dust intake port is in the center of the sander. This sander was $125 for 24 hours.

Make a reservation for the sander and make sure that you can do all of the major sanding on that day.  You will not be able to use the sander to sand between coats if you only have a twenty-four hour rental.  Sanding between the coats is not a big deal, it can be accomplished without the rented equipment.

The big sanding day

When saving a wood floor, do everything that you can to prevent the dust from consuming your whole house.  The dust collection system on the sanders can only do so much.  Blow a fan out of a window in the work area to create negative air pressure.  Close all the doors you can.  Put mats on the floor at the end of the work area so you don’t track dust all over.  No matter what you do, this is a messy experience.

WARNING: Don’t forget to protect your lungs and hearing! Wear a respirator and ear protection.

dust cloud
What it looks like when you spill the sander’s dust collection bag.

Go through all the grits with the big sander and don’t worry about the edges or detail areas until after you have returned the rental.  You will need to change the sanding discs often.

Use a detail sander like the one shown (random orbit to minimize scratch marks) to get all of the areas that you couldn’t get with the big machine.  I usually end up sitting on my butt when I do this.  Progress through the grits as before.  I even had to hand sand to get under the wall-mounted radiator. It is OK if the very edges are rough, the shoe molding will cover them.  With the rougher grits, don’t stray into the larger field because you might neglect these areas with the finer grits and end up leaving scratch marks.

sanding floor edges
Sand the edges following the same progression through the grits.

Applying finish (the fun part of saving a wood floor)

Save a wood floor with the right finish and applicator.

Water-based polyurethane is junk; don’t waste your time with it.  I did one area of the house with water-based poly and have regretted it ever since.  It looks terrible, requires a bazillion coats, and protects poorly.

For this project I used oil-based, high-gloss polyurethane (Minwax brand) applied with an applicator pad. (I have never tried using a polyurethane roller).  You just mop it on.  You will also want a detail brush for tricky spots that you can address as you go.

applying floor finish
This is the microfiber pad used to “mop” on the finish.  You can try to clean them or just buy several.
how to apply floor finish
This bin was perfect for loading the applicator. I keep the brush with me as I progress.

Prep the sanded floor for finish.

Get as much dust out of the room as possible so that nothing lands in your finish.  Dust, sweep, vacuum, and repeat.  I thought I was going to kill Roomba, but he survived.

Update: I actually did kill the blower motor on the Roomba soon after, but it was cheap and easy to replace. He survived the transplant.

When you are ready to apply the finish, clean the floors with mineral spirits.  It need not dry completely before applying the first coat.

prepping a floor for finish
Cleaning the floor with mineral spirits will help the oil-based poly adhere.

Plan your exit strategy.

Think about how the application will progress.  Where will you start and where will you end? How can you progress so that you are mostly going with the grain of the wood? I started in the closet and worked my way toward my exit the top of the stairs.  Think about how you will leave yourself a convenient path that you can mop as you exit.  Leave the stuff you will need to wrap up at your exit point.

planning to finish a floor
This will be my exit point.

Apply the finish.

Make sure you are strategic about mopping toward your exit.  Mop slowly and with the grain (as much as possible). Smooth out thick spots or drips as you go.  If you leave a glob of poly in one spot, it will dry that way.

If your are careful with the applicator, you don’t need to cut-in around the baseboards with the brush.  You can get close enough so that the edge will be covered by the shoe molding, but be careful not to slop the poly on to the baseboards.

Use the detail brush to get the little areas that will not be covered by the shoe molding. Do this as you go so that you have a wet edge and don’t leave overlapping coats.

detail brush for floor
The applicator pad can’t reach spots like this without slopping it on the trim.

Sand lightly between coats.

You will want to apply three coats to save a wood floor, and each coat needs to dry over night, so these areas will be off-limits for a while. Be advised, this stuff really stinks as it dries and cures.

The day after the previous coat, sand with 220 (see clip below), vacuum, wipe with mineral spirits, and apply the next coat.  This actually goes very quickly and you only have to do it twice.

This is my method for sanding between coats. A broomstick, paint roller, and duct tape can save your back and speed things up.

After the final coat, baby the floor for a few days as the finish cures.  You can still walk around in your socks, but don’t let the dogs scratch it or put furniture on it.

Save a wood floor cheap final result:

finishing a floor
Note the tennis balls protecting the new finish.

These floors look good to me. The new pieces of floor stand out a bit, but they will develop that same orange tone over time. Time to install the shoe moldings and fixtures.

The next time these floors need some attention, I won’t need to do nearly as much. I will just give a light sanding and apply more poly.

Any great tips to save a wood floor cheap? Please leave a comment.

painting a room on the cheap

Painting a room on the cheap is not as easy as the Home Depot thinks.

It seems like every other home store commercial features a young couple completing an ambitious painting project.  They fold their arms, regard their freshly painted room with pride, and nonchalantly toss their spotless tools into an equally spotless bucket.  What will they do with the rest of their Saturday? Play with a puppy? These ads work because we are attracted to the instant gratification and the relative harmlessness of painting a room on the cheap. (You can neither flood your house nor burn it down – usually).

Anyone who has attempted painting a room on the cheap knows that it is not so easy.  It does not go quickly.  It is physically demanding and requires uncomfortable positions. You can damage your home – especially floors and moving parts like doors and windows, and poor adhesion can ruin a surface for future painting.

Nevertheless, you can successfully paint a room on the cheap.  I am too cheap to pay someone to paint rooms for me.  After several renovations, I can give you some painting tips to help you get professional results, but it will never be as easy as the home store would have you believe.

Tips for painting a room on the cheap

Prepping the room for painting a room on the cheap.

Do not even think about painting until you have carefully prepped the room. Good preparation will make the job easier and give better results.

  1. Think about the surfaces you are painting.  Are you painting over new drywall, raw wood, joint compound, or masonry (brick, stone, etc.)?  Is the surface stable enough to paint over or is it flaking and crumbling? If you are painting over paint, is the paint latex, oil, or even lead-based?  These issues will determine the methods and materials you need to use.
  2. Be safe.  Prepping can harm your eyes, nervous system, and lungs.  Use a lead test kit if you think some surfaces may contain lead-based paint.  Wear a respirator when scraping or sanding.  Wear eye protection, as a single paint chip can permanently damage an eye.  If you are using a an electric sander, wear ear protection.
  3. High spots and problem areas. Knock off any loose paint.  Cut off or smash down high spots on the walls or ceiling.  You may have to do some damage (like removing large chunks of plaster) to completely fix problem areas, and that is OK.  It is easy to repair voids.
  4. Prime problem areas to be filled.  If you are using joint compound to fill crumbly voids, hit them with primer first; it will glue the crumbly stuff together and allow the joint compound to adhere.
  5. Fill the voids.  Use joint compound to fix all of the low, damaged areas.  If you still have some high spots or ridges, feather them out (build up the edges for a less noticeable transition) with joint compound and a wide drywall knife (10+ inches wide).
  6. Sand the repairs and all glossy surfaces lightly with 220 grit paper.  Glossy surfaces can lead to poor adhesion, but the scratches made by the sanding gives the new paint a way to grab.
  7. Buy the right primers and paints.  There are two basic types of paint: oil-based and water-based (latex).  They are not compatible for re-coating. Do not apply oil-based paint on water-based (latex) paint. You can paint latex paint over oil-based paint if you prime correctly.  Read the cans before you buy.  The cans will tell you if you can use the product directly on oil-based paint, metal, raw wood, masonry, etc.  I often use Bulls Eye 1-2-3 primer as it works on everything

Be safe! Remember that disturbing old surfaces can release harmful particles.  Keep yourself and your family safe.

Plan for one coat of primer and two coats of paint.

The home store is overrun with more expensive “paint and primer in one” options that supposedly cover in one coat.  Avoid these products when painting a room on the cheap.  You have to go way to the back of the aisle (by design) to find the less expensive paint used by people who know how to paint properly.

the paint aisle

Primer is more like glue than paint.  It sticks to glossy, dirty surfaces so that paint can stick to it, but it covers poorly.  Try to avoid leaving heavy brush strokes as primer will dry quickly and leave visible ridges (use a good brush that minimizes bristle marks). It can start covering up the color and stains you are painting over, so pick a white primer when prepping for lighter colors or a dark-tinted primer for rich colors.

Even if you have a “one coat” paint, do two coats. You will never have a perfect first coat; the second coat will help.  Two light coats will always look better than one thick coat.

Why not a third coat of paint? Three coats of paint starts to magnify problems with build-up, errant bristles, debris landing in the finish, etc.

Paint the room in the proper order: ceiling, trim, and then walls.

This is key to making your painting a room on the cheap easier.  Whenever possible, paint the ceiling first, then the trim, and then the walls.  This way you can be messy with the ceiling paint (overlapping a bit to the adjacent surface instead of carefully cutting in) and a bit messy with the trim paint.  Do the walls last, and carefully cut in (painting carefully around edges with a detail brush) around the ceiling and trim.  If you are carefully cutting in on all three phases, your life will be miserable.

Use the proper paint finish types: flat, semi-gloss, and eggshell.

There are different finishes for reasons beyond aesthetics.

Ceiling paint is extra flat (no shine) to hide imperfections on such a large visible plane. Ceiling paint is very cheap, so I recommend it. Flat paint offers good adhesion for touch-ups down the road.  It may be “on trend” to paint ceilings in bold or shiny paints, but I don’t recommend it.  The cool, almost gray hue of flat ceiling paint hides imperfections from the dry-walling or plastering.  Furthermore, if you slop ceiling paint on to the walls during the early stages, you will have not trouble painting over it with the wall paint.

cutting in around ceiling

Semi-gloss paint makes the trim and baseboards “pop.” It holds up to abuse (I’m looking at you, Roomba), and can be cleaned easily.  The tops of baseboards, casings, etc. always collect dust and grime, so you want something that can take some scrubbing.  You could use an even shiner and more durable gloss or high-gloss paint on the trim, but the higher the sheen, the more it will show imperfections.

For best results, apply trim paint by using a brush and following the direction of the wood grain. When the brush strokes do not follow the grain of the wood, it looks odd.

Watch out for doors and windows in older homes because excessive paint build-up can bind movement.  Look at the door edges and/or window sashes before painting and determine if the paint build-up is going to be a problem.  You may need to sand, plane, (or avoid painting) moving surfaces that are too close together. You do not want to finish painting a realize that something has to be fixed and painted again.

PRO TIP: You can give the appearance that any surface is painted wood.  For example, take a look a the reveal around my windows.  It is drywall underneath, but I used semi-gloss trim paint and a bristle brush to give the appearance that the windows are surrounded by wood.  This technique works well in making MDF trim, faux-wainscoting, etc. look like painted wood.

making drywall look like wood

Eggshell finish is perfect for walls that do not suffer under excessive abuse or moisture. Eggshell is toward the middle of the luster spectrum, but it is a bit more forgiving (roller marks do not show as much) than a satin finish. Eggshell paint looks sharp when applied with a roller.

Blue tape is for chumps.

There are very few instances where using painters’ tape will give you better results when painting a room on the cheap. Spraying paint or creating complicated patterns are the exceptions.  Most of the time, the paint will sneak behind the tape anyway.  Learn how to cut-in in properly and stop wasting time and money messing with blue tape.

PRO TIP: If you are painting around windows, slopping a bit of paint on the glass won’t matter.  (This does not apply to Plexiglas). It easy to scrape it off later with a razor blade (primer is a bit harder to scrape off).  Clamp a fresh razor blade into a pair of vise-grips and you have a comfortable, effective tool for removing paint from glass.

scraping paint off glass

Make yourself comfortable when painting.

I hate painting because it is often uncomfortable.  I always end up crawling around on the floor with aching wrists or trying to squeeze my fat behind into awkward corners.  Under these conditions it is tempting to do a crumby job just to get it over with. Make sure you have a good platform to stand on, comfortable shoes, a comfortable vessel for loading your paintbrush, and maybe even a set of knee pads.  I found the the painting cup shown below at the dollar store, and it was worth every penny.

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PRO TIP: If you don’t need knee pads very often, fold up some washcloths and duct tape them over your jeans.  I find this to be more comfortable than real knee pads.  If you do this with shorts on you will achieve a smooth finish (on your legs).

Learn to cut in like a pro.

“Cutting in” is not when you see an attractive person painting and offer to help. “Cutting in” is using a detail brush to paint around the edges that you know you will not get with the roller.

Cut in first so that you are rolling over some of your brush marks.

Buy a small (1.5 – 2.5 inch), angled brush that you can push, slide, and cajole into corners. Don’t be cheap on this brush. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

Be patient when cutting-in.  Don’t apply paint directly into the corner; you will go past the corner or put in too much paint.  Lay the paint on close to the corner (but not in the corner) and massage it in as you “lay off” (evening out and thinning the layer) with second pass.  “Swoop” the tips of the bristles into the corner where you want it to be and move it slowly down the line as you slide the paint (that you left on with the previous stroke) to the edge.

laying on paint to cut in
Apply the paint away from the corner with the first stroke.
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“Swoop” toward the edge with the second pass. At the proper angle, the bristles will find the corner and slide the paint into place.
painting an irregular edge
When held at an angle, the bristles can follow an irregular edge.

painting a corner

Use the tip of the brush to finesse the paint into corners.  Try different angles and don’t worry if you don’t get it all the way in to the corner on the first coat.  It is easier to be patient than to clean up a mishap in a corner.

Now you are rolling.

Don’t bother with pumping rollers or other gimmicks when painting a room on the cheap.  A cheap roller and extension handle will cover quickly and effectively. You can often use a broom or mop handle that you already have to screw on to your roller.  The extended handle makes the job much more efficient and comfortable.

Clean the lint off a new roller so that particles do not end up in the finish.  Rub your hands from the center of the roller to the ends and remove the fibers that collect.

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Use a kitchen-size garbage bag to cover your tray so that you won’t have to clean up every time.  It is a bit wasteful, but it reduces effort and reduces the amount of paint going down the drain when cleaning trays.

Cover the tray, tie a knot in the bag, and rip a hole in the underside so the bag will lay flat.  The wrinkles from the bag will not matter. When your painting session is finished, collect the excess paint, remove the bag carefully, and drop the bag in the garbage.

bagged paint tray

use a bag for paint rolling

Getting great results with a paint roller

A poor job with a roller results in poor coverage or nasty little ridges from the ends of the roller.  Use proper technique to avoid these issues.

Using a paint roller requires the same method as cutting in; lay on the paint and then go back to spread it out evenly.  Don’t roll near the edge of your selected area with your initial application, it will be harder to even out.  A roughly 4′ x 4′ area is appropriate for the amount of paint held by most rollers. Always move the roller in the direction of the roller’s metal bar.  The lighter pressure on the opposite side is less likely to leave paint ridges.

applying paint with a roller
This is the first pass where I am “laying on” the paint.  Note that I am going from left to right here so that the bar side is leading the way.
spreading out paint with a roller
Then re-roll the area to spread the paint out evenly and reach the edges.
using a paint roller with handle
Roll toward the side with more pressure (bar side).  Advance two or three inches at a time so every inch gets a couple of passes.
rolling paint near the edge
When you reach an edge, reverse the head of the roller so the lighter pressure is facing the edge.
debris in paint finish
Watch for debris landing in the finish.  Take a moment to pluck out little nasties and re-roll the spot, but don’t obsess.

PRO TIP:  Use a longer handle to make your job easier, but don’t buy one.  Most mop handles, broom handles, etc. are threaded the same way.

Keep a bucket of clean(ish) water on hand.

This will allows you to fix mistakes immediately and care for your painting tools. The larger it is the longer you can go before refreshing it.  Keep a large sponge and a small sponge in the bucket so that you can wipe off mistakes immediately with slow, heavy pressure.  Only wipe mistakes with a clean part of the sponge. Dunk brushes, rollers, cups, etc. immediately after use so that they won’t dry before you can clean them thoroughly.

Take care of your painting tools or pay more later.

Clean roller handles after each use so that paint doesn’t build up on the moving parts. I don’t clean and save rolls; I have tried, but I can never get them clean enough to re-use. I store the one I am using in a bag when between coats.

storing paint roller in a bag
You can extend the life of the roller by sealing it in plastic between coats. Some people even put the bagged roller in the refrigerator to slow drying.

Dunk brushes in your water bucket after cutting in and go straight to rolling so that you can have a “wet edge” and minimize brush marks and problems caused by finishing a coat on top of semi-dry paint.

Clean the submerged brushes after you have finished the coat with the roller using hot water. Quality brushes are not cheap.  When you wash brushes, squeeze and massage the bristles, but don’t damage them by bending them too much or scraping them. Allow brushes to drip dry in their appropriate shape.

paint brushes dripping dry
Allow brushes to drip dry in their ideal shape.

PRO TIP: Remember that primer is like glue.  It will adhere faster and stronger to your tools.

Painting a room on the cheap conclusion.

Summary:

  • Attack problem areas
  • Buy the right materials
  • Repair and prep. problem areas
  • Prep the entire surface
  • Learn to roll paint and cut-in properly
  • Paint in order (ceiling, trim, and walls)

That’s it!  Painting a room on the cheap is not fun, but you can get results that will please you.  It won’t be perfect, but professional results are never perfect either.  Only you will see the imperfections.  I wish you the best in painting a room on the cheap.

painting a room on the cheap

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